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Remembering “Line”

and West High’s Miracle Season
Former Iowa City West High volleyball coach Kathy Bresnahan signs a copy of her book, “The Miracle Season,” during a release party and signing event, Feb. 21, at Coach’s Corner, in Iowa City. The book, also made into a movie, chronicles the West High 2011 volleyball season to a state championship following the death of Caroline Found. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

Former coach writes
about tragedy and triumph

IOWA CITY– In 2010, Kathy Bresnahan and her West High Women of Troy were on top of the world. The varsity volleyball team won the Class 5A state championship with a 3-0 win over Linn-Mar, a 3-1 win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy and a 3-0 win over defending champion Ankeny, the team which denied West the title a year prior. Once the trophy was safely secured in the West High trophy case, attention turned to the 2011 season and hopes for a rare championship repeat.
However, tragedy struck in August of 2011, when Caroline Found, the team’s captain and setter, died in a moped accident just before the start of the season. Bresnahan, known affectionately as “Brez,” and her players were thrown into a vortex of emotions as they collectively pulled together to deal with the loss of “Line,” as Found was known by, and redoubled their efforts to win another championship. The Women of Troy succeeded in their quest, defeating Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln 3-0, Kennedy 3-2 and knocking off crosstown rival City High in dramatic fashion 3-2 after the Little Hawks won the first two sets.
It was a season of “Live Like Line” T-shirts, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” played at home matches in her memory and “Remember Us” served as a message to fans, friends and foes alike. It was not a question, it was a statement: “Remember us. We’re coming back to state.” Not only did the team overcome its grief to dominate the regular season as the top-ranked team in Class 4A, it made it to the state tournament for the fourth year in a row.
Bresnahan recounts the season in intimate detail in her book, “The Miracle Season,” recently released. The former West High coach, still teaching at West and Liberty High, held a book release party on Feb. 21 at Coach’s Corner Sports Pub, in Iowa City. Friends, family, former athletes, colleagues, fans and other well-wishers gathered in a lengthy parade which wound its way through the small pub, on Mormon Trek Boulevard, as they purchased copies of the book for Bresnahan to sign during the two-hour event.
The book is the second to be written about Found and the season, born in tragedy but ending in triumph. The first book was met with some controversy in the West High community. The story was also told by HBO as part of its “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” program. However, nobody knew the story better than Brez, her staff and the players.
Documenting the season began with notes scribbled after each practice session, she said.
“I’ve always jotted notes every day in my practice planner that I could go back and reference later in the season or in following years,” she said. “I would rate drills, how well the practice flowed, and anything that was fairly successful or disastrous in terms of skill development.”
The 2011 season practice book, she said, was soon filled with notes about the players’ emotional state of mind, what drills or circumstances triggered an emotional breakdown and how individual players were dealing with their grief.
“About a year and a half after the season was over, some of the girls and I were talking about how others could be inspired by our journey,” she said. “I started compiling my notes and began to write down what we experienced.”
Having others attempt to chronicle their season wasn’t a consideration, she said.
“We believed the story, from our perspective, was an intimate and emotional experience,” she explained. “I wanted to continue Line’s legacy, honor our student body and community for all their support, and give credit to my players who fought through their grief and pain because losing wasn’t an option.”
The grief and pain was often a daily challenge. Bresnahan recalled how one of her athletes began to lash out at her teammates and the coaching staff.
“It was her way of dealing with her emotions,” Bresnahan said. “I finally asked her to give me a number ranking her emotional pain at the start of practice each day. If she was a seven or eight, we treated her with kid gloves. A two or three and she was having a good day, so we could push her a bit harder in practice.”
She pointed out that in a regular season, “we would have told her to leave her emotions at the door before she stepped onto our practice court. However, our normal rules didn’t apply that season.”
Bresnahan found she couldn’t leave her emotions at the door, either, as she underwent the process to transfer her notes into a book.
“It wasn’t easy to relive those days,” she said. “Sometimes while simply reading my notes, I’d have to stop and compose myself. The tears flowed constantly, and occasionally laughter. It doesn’t come through in the movie, but humor truly got us through most of the season.”
The movie Bresnahan referred to is a full-length feature film, of the same title, starring Helen Hunt as Bresnahan. Ellen Moriarty portrays Kelly Fliehler, Line’s close friend and the girl who stepped into the role of setter while William Hurt portrays Ernie Found, Line’s father, who suffered a double tragedy as his wife Ellyn died from cancer within a few weeks of Caroline’s death. Danika Yarosh portrays Caroline while Jason Gray-Stanford portrays Scott Sanders, Bresnahan’s “Right Chair,” or first assistant coach.
Bresnahan stepped down in 2014, replaced by Randy Dolson, who now leads the varsity program at Liberty High, while Sanders has taken the head coach position at West High.
“LD Entertainment was one of the first groups to approach Ernie and me after HBO’s ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’ aired,” Bresnahan said.
At least five different groups either flew to Iowa or otherwise approached them about a possible movie in the late fall of 2012.
“But it was still too soon,” she said. “Not long after that, I began the initial attempts at writing the book. LD Entertainment continued to check with us every few months.”
After two years of offers and inquiries, the time seemed right.
“Ernie and I realized how many people could find hope and inspiration from the story we lived, and eventually we agreed to move forward with LD,” she said.
David Cohen (“Friday Night Lights”) wrote the screenplay based on Bresnahan’s book.
“It was natural that he could use the book as a resource for details about the season that only the players and coaching staff could know,” she added.
The movie was filmed in 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has its national debut on Friday, April 6, after a premiere showing Sunday, March 18, at the Englert Theatre, in Iowa City. A limited number of tickets are available for the 2 p.m. showing.